It was the summer of 1989, Twin Rocks Trading Post was set
to open soon, and the time had come to carve the front doors. Several
months earlier I had grown tired of trying to convince the Salt Lake City law
firms I would be a good addition to their team and decided to come to Bluff for
some honest construction work. I had traded an air-conditioned office in
Sacramento for the heat of midsummer Bluff, and the transition had gone
smoother than expected. The manual labor was more enjoyable than anticipated,
and I liked feeling it was helping build something substantial, long-lasting.
A difficult marriage caused me to end my California legal career and return to Utah. I felt the marital union deserved at least one more try, so I gave my notice to the partners, packed my things, and headed east. Because I did not possess an Ivy League degree, however, the top Salt Lake City firms were not kind to me. As a result, I turned to Bluff as a sanctuary from the disappointment of numerous unproductive interviews. I felt a little time away from the law might clear my head and help me decide what I really wanted to do with my life. Little did I know how profound the change would turn out to be. Pounding nails, mixing concrete, and sanding wood turned out therapeutic, just what I needed.
"What the heck is that?" I asked. "Kokopelli," Jim proudly proclaimed. I scratched my head, wondering what a Kokopelli might be. Jim did not know exactly how to explain the drawing, but said it had something to do with ancient rock art and good fortune, maybe fertility. At that point I needed a little luck, and fertility seemed interesting, so I agreed to the design. Jim hoisted one of the big laminated doors up onto saw horses, rolled out his set of wood chisels, and went to work. Under his large, skilled hands the insect-vegetable man began to emerge.
At the time, I viewed Kokopelli as nothing more than an artistic feature. After
a while, however, I began to notice people caressing his image as they walked
into the store. Then, one day I received a call from a Canadian woman who had
been in the shop on her recent vacation. She had returned home only to decide
she needed a piece of jewelry with the image of Kokopelli engraved, carved, or
inlayed into it. Conception had been a problem she explained, and something was
needed to break the log jam. She believed Kokopelli was the man for the job, so
I packaged a set of earrings with his image, including all the
appropriate anatomical equipment, into a box and shipped it to her.
Imagine my surprise when a few months later the woman telephoned to excitedly inform me that, after several years of trying to conceive a child, she was indeed pregnant. Kokopelli had worked his magic, she said. At that point, I realized there was more to learn about the character who caused people to caress his carved image and request his intervention in matters of fertilization.
What I discovered was a rich, entertaining, multifaceted, and sometimes conflicting series of legends about this often well-endowed, humped-back flute player that was difficult to categorize. His image is prominently posted on rock art panels throughout the Southwest and, depending on which story you believe, he is thought to have been a storyteller, teacher, healer, traveler, trader, or god of the harvest. Most people, however, focus on his status as a fertility symbol. Some archaeologists with whom I have spoken indicated the Ancient Puebloans welcomed Kokopelli's visits to their small farming villages and believed his presence ensured a good crop. According to Navajo legend, Kokopelli is the bringer of abundant rain and successful plantings, of many types. Legends involving his seduction of young women are numerous and varied. In spite of that, Kokopelli seems to have maintained positive, productive relations with everybody he encountered.
Several years before, Jamie had come into the store on a late fall afternoon and pointedly demanded, "Do you buy from white guys?" After explaining I did not care whether he was purple, pink, or aquamarine, I asked to see his work. At the post we focus on the quality of stones and caliber of work, not the color of the individual’s skin. Among the pieces Jamie spread on the counter was a flute player brooch, featuring a bird perched on the musician's shoulder, Kokopelli. Jamie’s work was striking, and after a little negotiation, I purchased every piece he had that day. That was the start of a long-term business association and friendship.
I have no idea whether it is true, but I like to think the image Jim placed on the doors during the summer of 1989 have cultivated a stream of friends, acquaintances, and customers. It is amazing how seemingly inconsequential events can influence your life. Imagine what might have happened had Jim suggested Coyote, the Trickster, for our doors.